Anti-social behaviour, declining footfall, and shabby aesthetics - why Sheffield city centre needs some serious TLC

"Sheffield city centre is a pitiful sight these days,” says Tim Nye, shaking his head regretfully.

By Nik Farah
Thursday, 8th October 2020, 2:56 pm

"As we stand here on Norfolk Row, we’ve got construction work on one side, and big unsightly concrete blocks at the other end – a security measure of some sort.

"It makes one of this city’s prettiest streets – and the reason I brought my business here – look absolutely awful.

"Round the corner on Fargate, near Chapel Walk, is scaffolding that’s been there for years, and big bins that retailers are leaving, unchallenged, to stand in the street all week long.

The concrete blocks and barrier, acting as a security measure, at the bottom of Fargate

"I love Sheffield and I love the ambition behind the big developments going on, but in the short term, we’ve got to look after our centre better.

"We can’t allow it to become a place nobody wants to visit.”

Tim, owner of Marmadukes Cafe Deli – which occupies two premises in Sheffield’s city centre - is one of three local business owners who have met with The Star to voice their concerns about issues they feel are contributing to a deteriorating high street.

Joth Davies, founder of Savills Barbers, and Kane Yeardley, of True North Brew Co, agree that more must be done to tackle problems with anti-social behaviour, declining footfall, and shabby aesthetics.

Joth Davies and Tim Nye stand outside Marmadukes Cafe Deli, on Norfolk Row

“It was like a ghost town as I walked into the centre today,” says Joth, as we pass red-and-white traffic separators littering the corner of Leopold Street.

“Devonshire Street, where I’m based, was always a hive of activity, particularly once the students were back, but the footfall there has been in decline for the past couple of years.

"Covid is just making an existing problem more noticeable.

"There is lots of anti-social behaviour - people staggering around drunk or collapsed on the floor.

Chapel Walk 'open as usual'

"I know some of them are in desperate situations, and more needs to be done to help them.”

Tim, a retired policeman, adds: "The other day someone was passed out on the steps near our cafe on Cambridge Street.

"The city ambassadors came and moved him 20 yards on to our benches, and left.

"Another day, there was a guy urinating in a bus shelter, shouting and screaming in full view of everyone.

Joth Davies and Tim Nye stand take in the scaffolding on Chapel Walk

"Nobody reacted, they just seemed to accept it as a part of city living.”

Kane agrees: “There are a lot of people in the city centre who we, as a society have let down; people who’ve been left to deal with their problems, to become homeless and unemployed, and to sink into addiction.

"As for the city centre building work, some of it has been going on for years, and it has become more difficult to drive around it due to roads being closed off, and changes in one-way systems.

"I appreciate the council is trying to make it cycle and pedestrian friendly, but in comparison the retail parks are easy access, with free parking, and they’re safer, because they are privately managed with zero tolerance for anti-social behaviour.

"If people were allowed an hour’s free parking in the city centre, to pop in and buy something or get a bite to eat, how much extra footfall would this create?”

As our groups reaches the bottom of Fargate, close to the tram tracks, another concrete block barricade greets us.

The concrete blocks and barrier, acting as a security measure, at the bottom of Fargate

Joth says: “I would ask the people charged with sorting that why on earth that’s what they chose, and not something more discreet, and in-keeping with the aesthetic of the city?

“We’re seriously lagging behind cities like Leeds and Manchester – looking up Fargate now you can see we don’t have enough independents in the centre, meaning there isn’t much for people coming to Sheffield looking for a unique day out.”

Kane agrees: “Rents and rates are still too high here, especially given that many people starting up businesses can run them online from home these days.”

Tim adds: “This city has such potential, and I know we have some really good people at the council trying to make things better, but my concern is, if we don’t look after it now, there won’t be a city centre for people to come back to when this pandemic is all over.”

Diane Jarvis, manager of Sheffield BID – which is working to create a more vibrant and economically successful city centre - responded: “Nobody should have to put up with anti-social behaviour, and while there is no single solution to make these issues disappear, the priority is to connect people with the relevant services to try and break the cycle of homelessness and addiction.

“Sheffield BID’s Clean Team deals with the effects of anti-social behaviour daily, removing rough sleeper debris, sleeping dens, and graffiti.

"There is also a PCSO who undertakes an early morning patrol of the hotspots, and links up with our team.

“I would encourage local businesses to highlight any specific issues to Sheffield BID so that we can quickly escalate recurring problems.

“The city centre is changing, and the amount of new investment is evident through the dominance of the building sites and cranes, which we understand bring considerable disruption.

"Retail has long been struggling on the High Street, and in the wake of the pandemic, the challenge is to rebuild vibrancy in the city centre.

"We have a lot of empty retail space right now, and we should see this as an opportunity to develop space for community groups, small businesses and independents to move in.

“Sheffield BID is working alongside Sheffield City Council and other partners, to look at how we drive valuable footfall.

"Before COVID, the council had planned to install permanent anti-terror barriers in the centre, which would be landscaped rather than concrete blocks.

"In the meantime, there are some quick fixes we will look at to ensure the centre is as inviting as it can be, particularly in the run up to the festive season."

The concrete blocks and barrier, acting as a security measure, at the bottom of Fargate
The entrance to Chapel Walk, as it currently looks
Traffic separators on the corner of Leopold Street
Taking a city centre walkthrough with local business owners
A quiet lunchtime in Sheffield city centre, on Fargate
The traffic separators, and concrete blocks and barrier, acting as a security measure, on Leopold Street
The concrete blocks and barrier, acting as a security measure, at the top of Norfolk Row
Joth Davies, of Savills, and Tim Nye, of Marmadukes Cafe Deli
Bins left on display on Fargate
Works underway in the city centre
Works underway outside The Crucible
Construction work underway on Pinstone Street
Construction work underway in the city centre
The long-term scaffolding works at the entrance to Chapel Walk